A World of Shadows



Responding to my blog on Putin’s invasion of the Ukraine, a reader named Eddie commented that:

The people of eastern Ukraine voted to separate from the Ukrainian government that was not elected and whose first move was to outlaw the use of the Russian language. A legal election was held. Nearly everyone voted and the vote was in favor of breaking free of the coup government that was appointed by the United States.What is most disgusting is Obama and the west, Why do neo-Nazis play such a prominent role in the supposedly moderate Ukrainian government of billionaire oligarch Petro Poroshenko?

All this is a window dressing, hiding a “blame Putin” message. Is Putin anyone’s peace, democracy and prosperity poster-boy? No. But he’s being far more rational than the US on most any “crisis” in Ukraine, Syria/Iraq, Libya etc.

Eddie has a point. While I doubt the validity of that “legal election” in the eastern Ukraine (the voters were looking over their shoulders at pro-Russian troops), the legally elected Ukrainian president was ousted in a coup. And covert US organizations were reportedly involved.

Eddie is also correct in suggesting the leaders of the Ukraine uprising include some questionable characters.

But Vladimir Putin’s crowd is certainly no better. He is a former KGB spy and his cronies are cut from the same cloth. Furthermore, he is reportedly in league with mobsters within the Ukraine.

What is most relevant, though, is his response to the Ukrainian uprising. The way I see it, he has taken advantage of the situation to further his empire-building ambitions.

What troubles me most is that he has a nuclear stockpile, which he is threatening to use. And he is no friend of America or the West.

I have no inside information from that distant part of the world, but I suspect this is a conflict between two sets of mobsters. In a rcent article in Foreign Policy magazine, Mark Galeotti recalls “the endemic criminalization of the Ukrainian state under successive leaders.” He writes:

Like Russia, Ukraine experienced a massive upsurge in organized crime in the 1990s, when new political and economic systems were being created at a time of catastrophically weak state control. Overt gangsterism in the streets was matched by the rise of a new elite who often blended political, economic, and criminal enterprises.

I doubt that western media have much inside information, either. They report what the powers that be tell them. And you and I know the powers that be don’t always tell the truth.

But this much is clear. Putin is not our friend. And the less the rest of the world has to do with him, the better.

Click for Galeottti’s article.


The Naked Truth



I didn’t recall at first who “Oscar winner” Jennifer Lawrence is. But I was sure I didn’t want to see her nude photos. And it’s not just because I’m so darned old. The truth is that I know Ms. Lawrence wouldn’t want me peeping at her and I think she has a right to her privacy.

Why am I even writing about this?

I was taken aback by the explosive response to the celebrity photos that were hacked and  posted online over the weekend. The Internet and the airwaves are abuzz, and “social media” sites are ablaze. One site, Reddit, devotes a whole page to discussions of the purloined photos. The story even made Forbes.com

Ms. Lawrence is causing the greatest stir.

And it’s not just because she won an Oscar for (I had to look this up) “”Silver Linings Playbook.”

Salon.com this morning includes a psycho-babble piece by a female writer who could not resist clicking on the purloined photos of Ms. Lawrence. According to this writer, as she guiltily indulged her curiosity, “Jennifer Lawrence’s body became the body of all women.”

What does that mean? You tell me.

As I said, I haven’t seen those nude photos, but I am sure that all women do not look like her. It’s not that other women are less attractive. But, unlike men who come in three or four predictable packages, women’s bodies represent a wide variety of shapes and sizes. And they are all beautiful in their own way.

I don’t doubt that Ms. Lawrence is exceptionally  beautiful. Her face is certainly nice to look at (photo above).  But so is the ancient statue of the Venus de Milo. So is “Female Nude Reclining on a Divan” by Eugene Delacroi. So is Manet’s “Olympia.” So is Titian’s “Venus Anadyomene” (below).Anadyomene

The female form has inspired artists, sculptors and authors for centuries. (It is enlightening that of the more than 100 celebrities hacked, only one was male.)

We men have been titillated by the sight of “forbidden” nakedness since … probably since Adam. And “exposing” nude – and compromising – photos of celebrities is as old as Hollywood. (If you’re old enough, you might remember those photos of Marilyn Monroe.)

So what’s the fuss about?

We all value our privacy. I am not the shy type but I wouldn’t be pleased to see my naked body displayed on the web.

The point is that Ms Lawrence’s body belongs to her. And she has every right to show it to whomever she pleases and keep it hidden from the rest of us.

In the name of common decency, we should all just let those photos rest in peace, and find something else to look at.

Click for the story.

Click for the Salon.com article.

Click for Jennifer Lawrence’s Oscar.

Click for famous nude paintings.


Done with Home Depot



It may be totally unfair. After all, Home Depot is a public company, and its shareholders are not responsible for anything the company’s founder says. But I will never darken Home Depot’s doors again. I will give all my business to Lowe’s (and Ace, which is just up the street).

It’s the only outlet I have for my disgust. And I am very, very disgusted with Ken Langone, Home Depot’s founder. He is trying to blackmail the Pope!

In a recent interview with CNBC  he hinted that he might end his charitable giving if the Pope doesn’t stop complaining about income inequality.

Wealthy people are feeling unfairly criticized by the Pope’s pleas in support of the poor, he explained.

Writing for Examiner.com this morning, David Phillips reports that:

The billionaire, who’s a major donor to the Republican Party, is currently working with Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the Archbishop of New York, to raise $180 million for the restoration of St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Langone said that he told the Archbishop about a wealthy donor who could give millions of dollars to the Cathedral project but was worried about the Pope’s “exclusionary” remarks.

As I understand it, the Pope reports to God, not Ken Langone. And it is my confident belief that Ken Langone will also have to report to God eventually.

Good luck wiggling through the eye of that needle, Ken Langone!

What is really, really disgusting about this horrible man and his filthy lucre is that he is not alone. From what I’m reading, many of the looters who have – by luck, guile or outright robbery – raked in the bulk of society’s resources are sulking. They say we should all just shut up about the way in which the 1 percent have ripped off the other 99 percent in American society, for example.

The nerve!

They’re lucky the poor and middle class aren’t out in the streets throwing Molotov cocktails.

America’s top 1 percent is collecting about 20 percent of the nation’s total household income – their largest share in  the past 100 years. And the income gap is widening rapidly.

There are a lot of underlying reasons, of course, but the way I see it, the main cause is the way in which the financial sector has managed to keeep a bigger and bigger share of the pie as they move the world’s money around. With support from the politicians they’ve bought, they can take as much as they like off the top. And they’re taking more and more.

Pope Francis would be derelict in his duty if he did not remind them of their spiritual obligation to share some of their ill-gotten gains.

But it’s not only up to the Pope to try and fix the problem. It’s also up to us.

And the only way we can do that is by voting for politicians (like Elizabeth Warren), who have the guts and the know-how to keep Wall Street in check.

I wish I could say that every Democrat is on our side. But, sadly, you and I know that’s not true.

What I can say is that every Republican is on the side of the looters.

That makes it a lot simpler for me to decide who to vote for in November.

Click for David Phillips’ story.

Click for more on income inequality.


Wasps that Will Not Die

Forget Freddie. There are these little critters under the oak tree in our front yard that put him to shame.

I first made their acquaintance a couple of years ago when a handyman who was working on the breezeway started running about, waving his arms and yelling like a crazy guy.

Yellow jackets. They had burrowed under the root of the tree next to the breezeway, and when he disturbed their nest they let him have it.

We sprayed the nest and forgot about the little monsters.

Imagine my surprise – make that horror – when I dug into the ground under the tree to plant some ferns on Thursday morning – and got swarmed. My hands, my neck, my poor tummy… they hit me everywhere.

I returned fire with Raid and the garden hose, but all that did was make them madder. They nailed me while I was spraying them – one on the chin and the other under my ear.

And it hurt!

Nothing eased the pain. Not ice. Not vinegar. Not anti-itch cream. Not Tylenol. I managed to get to sleep Thursday night by taking two night-time Comtrex tablets.

Friday I had golf (yes with my hands swollen like two party balloons… not surprisingly, I shot 97). But Saturday bright and early I went to Publix and bought a can of Raid wasp killer. “Kills the whole nest,” it proclaimed on the label.

Well, it didn’t kill the nest. And it certainly did not kill the wasps. Perhaps I needed to get closer when I sprayed? I decided t try again on Sunday.

Cunningly, I waited until dusk to launch the next counter-attack. In my experience, Jamaican wasps don’t sting at night.

But these are not Jamaican wasps. They blitzed me again while I was spraying. One little guy chased me all over the yard.

I decided to run through the palmettos, thinking the fronds would brush him away. But all that did was trip me up and send me head over heels onto the grass – with him buzzing menacingly around my ears.

It gets worse. I was wearing flip-flops. You ever try to run in flip-flops? You ever try to scramble to your feet in flip-flops while a killer wasp was buzzing around your head?

I kicked off the flip-flops and managed to get to my knees and then to my feet, which were already churning like Usain Bolt’s.

I made it to the house, with Sandra wondering what on earth was going on. She had admonished me against retaliating for the wasp attack, and had already left a message on Joe the Bug Man’s answering machine. Let a professional handle it, she had advised.

I should’ve listened to her, but do I know what’s good for me? I’m sure you know the answer.

To my amazement, the wasp followed me into the house and lit on my head, hitting me on my hand when I swatted him. His stinger even caught my finger when I picked up his little corpse to throw it in the trash.

Then I discovered I wasn’t wearing my glasses. By now it was dark, so I got a flashlight and went to look for them at the spot where I fell. Naturally, with my luck, I stepped on them and broke the lens – the same lens I had just replaced after sitting on my glasses on the bed (it cost me $80).

I should have listened to Sandra when she pleaded with me to wait for Joe the Bug Man. But I did not. I decided on the nuclear option.

First thing this morning I got some old newspapers,  set them afire and threw them on the nest. The flames leaped up, the mulch and dead fern roots caught fire… It was quite impressive.

Sandra was convinced I had gone over the edge and was trying to burn down the house. She kept yelling at me to put out the fire, and I did – but not until after the nest had burned for an hour. When I turned the garden hose on the underground blaze, massive plumes of smoke billowed over the yard – with the devil wasps flying about in the smoke trying to zero in on my head.

Fortunately, Joe the Bug Man called just about then. He came to our rescue with his professional poison and his expertise. After spraying the nest thoroughly, he got a shovel and rooted the whole thing out … big gray clumps of eggs and dirt. Then he sprayed the eggs again.

We put the mess in a garbage bag and threw it in our dumpster.

So that’s the end of the wasps, right?

Are you kidding? They’re still out there, buzzing around the breezeway, waiting for me to show my face…

Joe promised to come back tomorrow. But I doubt anyone can kill those wasps. They’re the wasps from Hell.


Oh No! Not Again!


Don’t tell me we’re headed back to to the days when Americans (and Canadians) built bomb shelters in their basements and hoarded canned foods and other supplies in preparation for the Apocalypse.

I just read a Reuters story, quoting crazy Vladimir Putin as saying:

I want to remind you that Russia is one of the leading nuclear powers.

So watch out. The shadow of The Bomb could be making a comeback.

Putin was showing off (as he is wont to do) at a pro-Kremlin youth camp but even so, his “reminder” amounts to a challenge to those Pentagon saber rattlers. They’re sure to respond that America is also a “leading nuclear superpower.” And there are American politicians who are eager to match Putin’s bluster with their own. I wouldn’t be surprised if John McCain, for example, were to urge the US to drop the first Bomb.

It might sound absurd to you and me but there are those who seriously contemplate a nuclear showdown.

Fortunately, President Obama is not one of them.

He is already being criticized for his reluctance to wage war. His lack of a Syrian “strategy” is attracting almost as much fire as his choice of a light-colored suit for his press conference.

But I am relieved to see him taking a cautious approach to the world’s complex conflicts. I know what it’s like to dig into a nest of hornets. That’s what I did on Thursday and I am still nursing the lumps all over my hands, arms, face and body.

Of course I do not know what it’s like to engage in a nuclear war. And I don’t want to know.

I would much rather endure Putin’s threats, galling though they undoubtedly are.

But I don’t think the rest of the world should have anything more to do with Russia. Putin seems to be some kind of mad dog and we should take his advice and not “mess” with him. Nor should we trade with him or allow him to take part in the global financial system.

This dangerous megalomaniac must be quarantined for the world’s safety.

And in the meantime, America would be wise to keep its nuclear arsenal on high alert – just in case.

Click for the Reuters story.


Father Knows Best? Still?


A report commissioned by two Republican lobbying groups finds that most women consider the party “intolerant,” “lacking in compassion,” and “stuck in the past.” To fix the problem, the report recommends a campaign to convince women that they’re wrong

.What? Don’t the little darlings realize father knows best?

Slate’s Amanda Hess reports this morning that:

R.R. Reno, editor of First Things (a journal that promotes “economic freedom” and a “morally serious culture”), published a very helpful essay illustrating how this fresh new strategy might work in practice. Reno begins his piece with a richly-drawn portrait of a hypothetical female Democratic voter: She is a “single, 35-year-old McKinsey consultant living in suburban Chicago who thinks of herself as vulnerable and votes for enhanced social programs designed to protect against the dangers and uncertainties of life.”

(Reno does not specify the number of cats she owns, but for the purposes of this discussion, let’s assume the answer is “several.”)

Reno speculates that this woman (whom he has invented and preprogrammed with opinions) feels “judged” by a Republican platform that opposes gay marriage, because “she intuitively senses that being pro-traditional marriage involves asserting male-female marriage as the norm—and therefore that her life isn’t on the right path.”

So she votes for the Democrat, who does not appear to be “intolerant” of her lifestyle.

I know quite a few women who wouldn’t vote Republican if they were being waterboarded. And not one fits that description (except for the part about the cats).

But, according to Reno, that’s the kind of voter Republicans must convert. How?  Reno has a strategy:

This woman is suffering from “various kinds of personal unhappiness related to the lack of clear norms for how to live,” Reno writes. She secretly “wants to get married and feels vulnerable because she isn’t and vulnerable because she’s not confident she can.” And so, actually, she should support the party that wants to force people into traditional marriages, thus improving her chances of getting married herself.

How about that, all you little ladies out there? Do they have your number, or what?

Click for the Slate article.


Don’t Blame Burger King

tax code


It’s futile to rail against Burger King for planning to merge with the Tim Hortons chain and move to Canada. Tell the truth, wouldn’t you do the same kind of thing if you were a US corporation? After all, corporations pay 15 percent tax in Canada, while the US rate is 35 percent.

Of course, few, if any, US corporations pay anything like 35 percent. Their accountants have long ago figured out how to take advantage of the myriad loopholes in America’s labyrinthine tax code. Indeed, the big players, such as GE, pay no federal tax at all. And it’s not a new phenomenon. According to government records, two out of every three United States corporations paid no federal income taxes from 1998 through 2005.

Everybody agrees the US tax code must be rewritten. The President has been begging Congress to get on it.

But you know this Congress isn’t going to vote for anything the President suggests. The Republicans are sworn to oppose anything he tries to do, and they control the House. They also use the power of the filibuster to sabotage anything useful that shows up in the Senate.

Meanwhile, the nation’s corporations wriggle and dodge as best they can to avoid paying taxes. They’re doing a heck of a job, too. Back in 1955, corporate taxes accounted for nearly 28 percent of the federal government’s revenue. In 2010, the percentage was under 9 percent.

The loss of corporate revenue means Uncle Sam has to look to individuals – you and me – to make up the difference. Or cut services.With the Tea Party crowd controlling Congress, it isn’t hard to figure out which route the government will take. They would trash all federal programs if they could.

It’s one reason highways and bridges are in disrepair, schools are a shambles and cities are going bankrupt.

Burger King is not the only corporation fleeing America. Fourteen companies have already abandoned the US this year. And Walgreen’s was on the verge of moving to Switzerland until public pressure made company bosses back down.

Obviously, something must be done to stop the rot.

And obviously it’s up to Congress to do it. But this Congress won’t. So we voters have to get us a Congress that will. Just remember that in November.

In the meantime, boycotting Burger King is not the answer. Go ahead, enjoy your whopper. And have some Tim Hortons coffee with that. I hear from my Canadian relatives that it’s really good coffee (the doughnuts rock, too).

Click for more on corporate tax dodgers.

Click for more on the boycott idea.

Click for more on the merger.


Sounds Like a Nice Name

We voted yesterday, Sandra and I. We did our civic duty. Sort of.

To tell the truth, we didn’t know who we were voting for. I searched the web and found little or nothing about the local candidates. And the local paper no longer offers recommendations. The New York Times sold the paper to a group in South Carolina in January, and the new owners think it would seem partisan to offer recommendations. (It might also turn off advertisers.)

We knew who Charlie Crist was, of course. He used to be our governor. He used to be a Republican. Now he’s a Democrat. From what we know of him, he is a reasonable guy. But he might be “pro-life.” That’s what a telephone robocall assured me. It was a recording that sounded a lot like Crist, and it warned me not to believe the stuff people were saying about him, that he was a staunch conservative anti-abortionist still, so I wasn’t to worry.

Of course, it could have been fake. The Republicans could have doctored the tape. They do that kind of thing. Creepy, isn’t it?

Is Crist against gun control? Nan Rich said so. Who is Nan Rich? She is the lady who ran against Crist in the Democratic primary. She was definitely for gun control and against Rick Scott. We didn’t vote for her although we agree with her and might disagree with Crist (if the robocall was genuine). But why waste our vote? She didn’t have a chance against Scott. Nobody knows her name.

A few of the names seeking my vote for positions like circuit judge and school board member sounded familiar. I thought I’d read something favorable about a candidate named Christine Thornhill so I filled in the oval next to her name. And the name Randy Wilkinson rang a bell. Wasn’t he the crazy guy who used to cause so much trouble on the County Commission, or was it some other guy with a similar name? Anyway, just in case it was the same guy, I voted for his opponent. I didn’t want some nut on the school board.

Sandra had commented that “Taylor Davidson” sounded like a good name, so Ifigured she would vote for him. He was running for a circuit judge seat. So I voted for his opponent. If he turned out to be a horror, I would be canceling Sandra’s vote. No harm done.

I know, we were … confused. But at least we voted. More than 80 percent of our fellow-citizens in Polk County didn’t even bother.

Was the exercise useful? Democracy in action? I doubt it.

It seems to me the same results could have been achieved by casting lots, as they used to do back in Biblical days.


What? No Golf for Obama?

Golfing ObamaIke

What is it with the “pundits”? Are they living in the past, when there were no smart phones? Or are they just determined to find fault with President Obama no matter what?

Obviously, I don’t agree with everything the President does. But I wouldn’t want his job.

And if I had his job, you bet I would take a break from time to time to play golf. It’s exactly the kind of stress reliever an American president needs.

For pundits like the New York Times’ Maureen Dowd to complain that the President was golfing (top photo) while the world burned is absurd. He might have been on the golf course but his smart phone was in his pocket, and Air Force One was waiting to whisk him back to Washington.

Back in the days before smart phones, President Eisenhower spent a lot of time on the golf course (bottom photo). And Americans loved him for it. Wasn’t the world burning then? You bet it was. Soviet missiles were primed and pointed at the United States, and US missiles were baring their nuclear warheads at Moscow.

It seems the world is forever burning someplace or other. If the American head of state waited for a tranquil interlude before taking a break, there would never be a break.

I guess President Obama isn’t supposed to take a break. And I thought slavery was abolished. Silly me.

There was a time when I thought Dowd was worth reading, but no more. She has become a pompous bore whose attempt at biting satire only exposes her lack of talent. Here’s a sample of her “wit,” as cited by writer Simon Maloy in Salon.com today:

FORE! Score? And seven trillion rounds ago, our forecaddies brought forth on this continent a new playground, conceived by Robert Trent Jones, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal when it comes to spending as much time on the links as possible – even when it seems totally inappropriate, like moments after making a solemn statement condemning the grisly murder of a 40-year-old American journalist beheaded by ISIL.

So it’s shameful for a black president to play golf in times of trouble, but it was endearing for a white president to do the same thing?

Would it have been more seemly for President Obama to hit the basketball court, perhaps?

News flash, Maureen, golf is no longer just a white man’s game. Haven’t you heard of a golfer named Tiger Woods?

Click for Maloy’s article.

Click for more on the president’s golfing.


In a Medicare Maze


I used to be horrified at the thought of privatizing Medicare, but now  I am not so sure. How much worse could it get? My experience with the present system has been truly bizarre.

Many moons ago, I belonged to a Medicare Advantage program called Quality Health Plans, and it went belly up. So I joined another program called Physicians United Plan (PUP). It was one of those really cheap plans – no monthly premium, minimal co-pays and so on. It seemed too good to be true, and apparently it was because two months ago it also collapsed.

As soon as I found out, I got on the web and compared various Medicare Advantage providers to see which would offer me the best deal. I settled on Coventry.

That was in mid-June and I couldn’t get enrolled until July 1, but the pharmacy assured me Medicare was paying for my prescriptions until my new plan kicked in.

It turns out that Medicare was doing no such thing. What Medicare did was hand me over to AARP.

(I know, I thought buying and selling human beings was obsolete, but apparently not.)

Imagine my surprise when I received a little coupon book from some United Health Care program. Apparently, I was now committed to paying these folks a monthly premium (I think it was $21).

I got on the phone and yelled at a United Health Care rep, but that didn’t do any good. So I mailed them the $21 under protest and told the rep to cancel my “membership.”

But that was not the end of it.

A couple of weeks ago, I got a letter from Coventry telling me that there was an “adjustment’ of $42 to my account “from my previous provider.” The letter seemed to be in some kind of code, so I was not sure what was being “adjusted” but I was relieved to note that “no payment was beng requested at this time.”

I called Coventry, and their customer service representative figured the adjustment had to do with co-pays I was expected to make during the time I was assigned (unknowingly) to AARP.

Still fuming from this outrage, I went to the pharmacy on Friday to pick up a couple of generic prescriptions. To my horror, I was told there was a co-pay of $12 and some cents.

As soon as I got home, I tried to call Coventry, and spent an hour listening to some really irritating music before I found out their Customer Service Department was closed.

After fuming all weekend, I called them this morning, and got hold of a pleasant young lady. But she couldn’t tell me what was going on. After an extended chat about my date of birth and address and so on, she told me I had to talk to someone in Pharmacy, and asked me to hold. The music was much better this time, the wait was much shorter, and the Pharmacy rep was very polite.

But she had bad news. I was in the doughnut hole.

Already? I don’t usually get in the doughnut hole till November. Where did they get their figures? From PUP?

She didn’t know anything about that. I would have to ask Customer Service. Transfer me, I pleaded.

Back at Customer Service, I talked to a nice young man, who told me that the figures came from Medicare. Coventry had no access to any figures from my previous providers.

So on to Medicare, where I eventually managed to negotiate one of those infuriating machines and get to a human voice. No, the voice said, they did not give any figures to Coventry. They have no record of my pharmacy expenditures. Only PUP would have that. And PUP no longer exists.

I was beginning to feel like the banker in Kafka’snovel.

What could I do? I could speak to a supervisor.

So I did. And the supervisor told me the same story. I was in the doughnut hole based on figures which were no longer available. So there.

Was there nothing I could do to find out more? She would refer my case to Advanced Resolutions. They would call me within two business days.

Perhaps they will be able to solve the mystery of my missing pharmacy expenditures. Or perhaps not.

Click for more on Medicare Part D.